These professional athletes earned fame and fortune playing in some the world’s most famous sports leagues—the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL.
Yet their careers only lasted so long, even if the competitive spirit remained. So many of them found running and endurance sports as the outlet they needed to transition into post-professional life.
“You come across that finish line, they drape that medal around your neck and you’re relieved,” says former NFL star Roger Craig, a daily runner. “You did it. No one helped you. You didn’t have an offensive line blocking for you. You had to reach within yourself, pull it out of your gut and finish.”
Here are nine athletes who put up the pads, pucks and batting gloves to join the endurance sports world, completing the ultimate goal of running 26.2 miles—with a few going well beyond that.
The former All-Pro running back for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers might be the most prolific football player-turned-marathoner out there. He’s run several marathons and half marathons in the last 10 years, starting with the 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego marathon (4:09). He eventually dipped his marathon PR below 4 hours, but mostly sticks with the 13.1-mile distance now. He is the co-founder of the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon, a race he participates in every year. Photo: PhotoRun.net
An 11-year Major League Baseball veteran for teams like the Oakland Athletics and Arizona Diamondbacks, Byrnes nonetheless has stated that his endurance sports accomplishments are what he’s most proud of. Byrnes ran the Half Moon Bay Marathon in 3:37, and has also run ultramarathons and finished several Ironman triathlons.
Bruschi is one of the most beloved New England Patriots ever and has three Super Bowl rings. He’s now a television analyst for ESPN, and he runs to stay in shape. After finishing the 2011 BAA Half Marathon, Bruschi participated in the 2012 and 2014 Boston Marathons, finishing the latter in 4:47. Bruschi, who overcame a 2005 stroke and played four more NFL seasons, runs to raise money for the American Stroke Association. Photo: PhotoRun.net
The former NHL enforcer battled his weight after his hockey career ended, so he turned to running. He finished the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Montreal marathon in 4:58—not bad for someone 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds.
After a 17-year Major League Baseball career wrapped up in 2007, Conine immediately transitioned to endurance sports. He finished the Ironman World Championships in 2008 (in a time of 14:23) and has since completed the Miami Marathon as well as a Spartan Race in South Florida. Photo: Flickr.
Faneca was one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL during his 13-year career, but you wouldn’t guess that looking at him now. The nine-time All-Pro guard weighed 315 pounds when he retired in 2010, then quickly cut back on his calorie intake and dropped 100 pounds. He finished the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon in 3:56.
A hockey Hall of Famer and 15-time NHL All-Star, Messier played hockey until he was 43 years old. Several years after retirement, he ran the 2011 New York City Marathon in a time of 4:14, beating his goal time of 4:30 and raising money for two charities in the process. Photo: PhotoRun.net
One of the fastest players in the NFL during his 10-year career as a wide receiver and return specialist, Dwight finished playing in 2007 and immediately turned to endurance sports. He finished the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon in 4:24, and has since completed several triathlons, including Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2011.
Bruce was one of the best receivers in St. Louis Rams history, catching 1,024 passes for 15,208 yards in 15 seasons. After retiring, he began to run as a way to benefit Team Activities for Special Kids (TASK), finishing the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Louis Marathon. “The discipline that it takes to play in the NFL carries over, without a doubt,” he says. “But it’s not just in the marathon—it’s in life.” Photo: PhotoRun.net